Alan Stubbs believes Martin Boyle’s new four-year contract is proof the flying winger is realising the raw potential which prompted him to bring the then Dundee player to Easter Road.
Stubbs pulled off a surprise, signing Boyle on a short-term loan three years ago, pitching him in against Hearts at Tynecastle only two days after he’d played in the Tayside derby.
Boyle went on to become a regular member of Stubbs’ side before his season was brought to a premature end, a serious knee injury sustained in the final Championship match against Falkirk forcing him out of the play-off matches.
But, as the 24-year-old has revealed, his entire future was thrown into doubt as his contract at Dens Park was coming to an end, his worries eased as Hibs paid for the operation he needed before offering him a new, permanent deal.
“I think morally it was the right thing, the only thing to do,” Stubbs said today. “Martin was our player when he suffered the injury and I don’t think we even had a conversation about it at the club. The right thing to do was pay for the operation and get on with his rehabilitation.
“It was bad enough to pick up the injury he had but there was also the matter of the situation he found himself in; you don’t want any player to have something like that hanging over them. It was one of those tackles, nothing untoward, just two players coming together but, nevertheless, something that could be very, very nasty and difficult to overcome.”
Boyle has now gone on to play more than 100 matches in the green and white and, under new boss Neil Lennon, has become one of the first names on the team sheet every week, Stubbs believing he is now enjoying a confidence and belief in his own ability.
He said: “Martin hadn’t been first-choice under Paul Hartley at Dundee. He was in and out of the team, couldn’t hold down a regular starting place while we were looking for a bit more width at the time. He was available and we felt he was a good option for us.
“Martin always had that raw pace – he has that in abundance – but for him it was doing it on a more consistent basis and having an impact on the team. Sometimes that comes with age but managers will tell you wingers are the most frustrating players on the pitch.
“One minute they can be very, very good, a match-winner, the next you wouldn’t know they are there. That’s the enigma of wingers.
“Every manager wants to see them be more consistent and that’s what Martin has been doing over the last 18 months. He seems to be embracing the situation now when he goes into games whereas maybe when he first came to Hibs it took a little time to become used to the expectation and playing with the expectation at a club of that stature.
“Perhaps there were those doubts, a bit of uncertainty and he didn’t really believe in his ability or the impact he could have on games. Now, though, he looks like he’s going into every game confident, saying ‘Yes, I am a Premiership player’.
“At times, we had to keep driving that home to him, how he could influence games more.
“Maybe he was a bit reluctant in those one-on-one situations but now you can see someone believing in his own ability. He certainly looks as if he’s enjoying his football and it’s like any walk of life – if you are doing something you enjoy you are more likely to try different things and not to worry if they don’t come off.
“Sometimes it does take a bit of time. We’ve all seen players do well at a club, make a move and they don’t seem to be able to make that step-over, to have the same kind of impact.
“The bigger the club, the more pressure there is. Can you handle it and deliver? Some can cope with the expectation, some don’t want the responsibility and some just want to do just enough. Then there are those who want to do more and more, to the ones who want to keep improving and making the step up.”
Boyle admitted his initial reaction when summoned to Lennon’s office was to worry about what he had done wrong, the last thing a player who’d just signed a new two-year contract in the summer expected was to be offered what, in effect, was a doubling of the length of that deal.
Stubbs said: “Martin is that type of character, thinking of the negatives rather than the positives, worried about what he had done wrong before anything else. But going on his form this season and last, no-one can deny the fact he has earned his contract.
“It’s unusual in football these days, particularly in the financial climate in the Scottish game, for players to be offered a deal of such length but, I think, it also shows the healthiness of the club itself.
“Obviously, it’s great for Martin but for the fans it gives a big indication of exactly where the club is at this minute in time. It’s fantastic that he has signed the deal. But it shows the club is in a very healthy position.”